St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives (Cornish: Porth Ia,[1] meaning "St Ia’s cove") is a seaside town, civil parish and port in Cornwall. The town lies north of Penzance and west of Camborne on the coast of the Celtic Sea. In former times it was commercially dependent on fishing. The decline in fishing, however, caused a shift in commercial emphasis, and the town is now primarily a popular seaside resort, notably achieving the title of Best UK Seaside Town from the British Travel Awards in both 2010 and 2011.[2][3][4] St Ives was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1639.[5][6] St Ives has become renowned for its number of artists. It was named best seaside town of 2007 by The Guardian newspaper.[7] It should not be confused with St Ive, a village and civil parish in south-east Cornwall.

St Ives

St Ives Harbour and Porthminster Beach
St Ives
Location within Cornwall
Population11,226 United Kingdom Census 2011
OS grid referenceSW518403
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townST. IVES
Postcode districtTR26
Dialling code01736
PoliceDevon and Cornwall
AmbulanceSouth Western
EU ParliamentSouth West England
UK Parliament


Early history

The origin of St Ives is attributed in legend to the arrival of the Irish saint Ia of Cornwall, in the 5th century. The parish church bears her name, and the name St Ives derives from it.[8][9]

The Sloop Inn, which lies on the wharf was a fisherman's pub for many centuries and is dated to "circa 1312", making it one of the oldest inns in Cornwall.[10][11] The town was the site of a particularly notable atrocity during the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549. The English provost marshal, Anthony Kingston, came to St Ives and invited the portreeve, John Payne, to lunch at an inn. He asked the portreeve to have the gallows erected during the course of the lunch. Afterwards the portreeve and the Provost Marshal walked down to the gallows; the Provost Marshal then ordered the portreeve to mount the gallows. The portreeve was then hanged for being a "busy rebel".[12][13]

The seal of St Ives is Argent, an ivy branch overspreading the whole field Vert, with the legend Sigillum Burgi St. Ives in Com. Cornub. 1690.[14]

During the Spanish Armada of 1597, two Spanish ships, a bark and a pinnace, had made their way to St Ives to seek shelter from the storm which had dispersed the Spanish fleet. They were captured by the English warship Warspite of Sir Walter Raleigh leaking from the same storm.[15] The information given by the prisoners was vital on learning the Armada's objectives.[16]


From medieval times fishing was important at St Ives; it was one of the most important fishing ports on the north Cornish coast. The original pier's construction date is unknown but the first reference to St Ives having a pier was in 1478 in William Worcester's 'Itinerary'.[17] The pier was re-built by John Smeaton between 1766 and 1770 after falling into disrepair.[17] It was lengthened at a later date.[18] The octagonal lookout with a cupola belongs to Smeaton's design.[19]

A. K. Hamilton Jenkin describes how the St Ives fisherman strictly observed Sunday as a day of rest.[20] St Ives was a very busy fishing port and seining was the usual method of fishing. Seining was carried out by a set of three boats of different sizes, the largest two carrying seine nets of different sizes. The total number of crew was seventeen or eighteen. However this came to an end in 1924. In the decade 1747–1756 the total number of pilchards dispatched from the four principal Cornish ports of Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance, and St Ives averaged 30,000 hogsheads annually (making a total of 900 million fish). Much greater catches were achieved in 1790 and 1796. In 1847 the exports of pilchards from Cornwall amounted to 40,883 hogsheads or 122 million fish while the greatest number ever taken in one seine was 5,600 hogsheads at St Ives in 1868.[21] The bulk of the catch was exported to Italy: for example, in 1830, 6400 hogsheads were sent to Mediterranean ports. From 1829 to 1838, the yearly average for this trade was 9000 hogsheads.[22]

Once the spring mackerel season ends, the fishing fleet head north. In July 1882, ninety luggers and six hundred men were engaged in the Scottish herring fishery.

While commercial fishing is much reduced, the harbour is still in use, often as well for recreational boating, tourist fishing and day trips to the nearby seal colonies on the Carrack Rocks and other locations along the coast. Recently, a class of Victorian fishing boat unique to St Ives, known as a "jumbo," has been replicated by boatbuilder Jonny Nance to celebrate the town's maritime heritage. Today's jumbos are operated by the St Ives Jumbo Association.[23]


The first lifeboat was stationed in the town in 1840.[24] In 1867 the Royal National Lifeboat Institution built a boathouse at Porthgwidden beach. It proved to be a difficult site to launch from and in 1867 it was replaced by a building in Fore Street. In 1911 a new boathouse was built on the Quay, and then in 1993 a larger station was built at the landward end of the West Pier.[25] Since its inception in 1839, thirty eight medals have been awarded to rescuers from St Ives, 18 silver medals and 20 bronze.[24]

Seven crewmen died in the St Ives lifeboat tragedy of 1939.[24] In the early hours of 23 January 1939 there was a Force 10 storm blowing with gusts up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). The lifeboat John and Sara Eliza Stych was launched at 3 o'clock to search for a ship reported in trouble off Cape Cornwall. It rounded the Island where it met the full force of the storm as it headed westwards. It capsized three times and drifted across St Ives Bay when its propeller was fouled. The first time it turned over four men were lost; the second time one more; the third time left only one man alive.[24] He scrambled ashore when the boat was wrecked on rocks near Godrevy Point.[26]

Later history

The modern seaside resort developed as a result of the arrival of the St Ives Bay branch line from St Erth, part of the Great Western Railway in 1877.[27][28] With it came a new generation of Victorian seaside holidaymakers. Much of the town was built during the latter part of the 19th century. The railway, which winds along the cliffs and bays, survived the Beeching cuts and has become a tourist attraction itself.[29]

In 1952, the Royal Navy warship[30] HMS Wave ran aground near the town.[31] The ship was later salvaged, repaired and returned to service.[32] A propeller believed to be from HMS Wave was washed ashore in 2008.[33]

In 1999, the town was the first landfall of the solar eclipse of 11 August 1999. The Tate St Ives displayed an exhibition called As Dark as Light, with art by Yuko Shiraishi, Garry Fabian Miller and local schoolchildren, to celebrate the event.[34] A live BBC programme with the astronomer Patrick Moore was clouded out and the eclipse was missed.[35]


On 28 July 2007 there was a suspected sighting of a great white shark. The chairman of the Shark Trust said that "it was impossible to make a conclusive identification and that it could have also been either a Mako or a Porbeagle shark". Coastguards dismissed the claims as "scaremongering".[36] On 14 June 2011 there was a suspected sighting of an oceanic whitetip shark, after a boat was reportedly attacked.[37] The Shark Trust said that the chances of the species being in British waters were "very small".[38] On 18 July 2017 a suspected blue shark was spotted close to the harbour.[39] On 16 July 2018, another blue shark was spotted in the harbour, prompting the Shark Trust to ask people to stay out of the water.[40][41]


St Ives is on the western shore of St Ives Bay, its harbour sheltered by St Ives Island (a headland) and Smeaton's pier. Close to the harbour, in the old part of the town, the streets are narrow and uneven while its wider streets are in the newer parts of the town on rising ground.[8] The town has four beaches: Porthmeor a surfing beach, Porthgwidden a small sandy cove, Harbour by the working port and Porthminster which has almost half a mile of sand.[42] St Ives has an oceanic climate and has some of the mildest winters and warmest summers in Britain and Northern Europe. It is therefore a popular tourist resort in the summer, and also benefits from an amount of sunshine per year that is above the national average.[43] The South West Coast Path passes through the town.[44]

Politics and administration

St Ives' local government administration has a two-tier structure consisting of two separate councils (St Ives Town Council and Cornwall Council) both of which are democratically elected statutory bodies.[45][46]

The first tier of local government in St Ives is the Town Council which is the closest tier to the general public with a membership of 16 elected town councillors from three wards.[45][47] The last elections were held in May 2013. The council has responsibilities for providing grant funding to local organisations, public footpaths, bus shelters, beach patrols, traffic control and allotments. The Council is a statutory body which is consulted regarding planning decisions in the town's area and makes recommendations to the planning authority, Cornwall Council.

Before 1974, St Ives Borough Council was the principal local authority for what now forms the civil parish of St Ives. Since the reform of local government in 1974, St Ives has an elected town council.[45] The area overseen by the Town Council of St Ives includes Lelant, Carbis Bay, Halsetown and St Ives. The elected town council members also become charter trustees of the original borough charter (for the duration of their term in office) which dates back to 1639 entitling them to carry out various ceremonial functions such as appointing a Mayor, awarding freedom of the borough to individuals, representing the Borough at formal occasions such as Remembrance Sunday wearing formal ceremonial robes and using the Coat of Arms. Typically, the Mayor of the Town of St Ives is also the Mayor of the Borough of St Ives. However, most of the other principal local authority functions for St Ives were undertaken by Penwith District Council and the Cornwall County Council. From 1 April 2009 Penwith and the other five Cornish district councils were replaced by a unified council, Cornwall Council.

Like St Ives Town Council, Cornwall Council is a statutory body incorporated by Act of Parliament. Cornwall Council is the second tier of local government in the area and is a unitary authority with a far wider range of powers. The Council deals with roads, street lighting, highways, social services, children and family care, schools and public libraries.[48] St Ives itself elects three of the 123 councillors (for the St Ives East, St Ives West and St Just in Penwith wards).[49]


The parish church is dedicated to Saint Ia of Cornwall, an Irish holy woman of the 5th or 6th century, and St Andrew, the patron saint of fishermen.[50] In 1408 the townsmen attempted to get a papal bull to authorise the consecration of their church and cemetery, but they did not achieve this, so they continued without the rights of baptism or burial. However, they undertook the building of the present church between 1410 and 1434 as a chapel of ease, St Ives being within the parish of Lelant. They were able to obtain the right to a font in 1428 but consecration of the cemetery only in 1542. For over a century the vicars of Lelant had resisted demands from the inhabitants of St Ives and Towednack for the right of sepulture but in 1542 the right was granted so the vicars transferred their residence to St Ives and abandoned the vicarage of Lelant.[51] There was damage to the church in 1697 when a storm broke through the sea-wall and damaged the roof and a large window over the altar.[52]

There are chapels dedicated to St Nicholas on the headland of St Ives Island and St Leonard on the quay which were used by the fishermen and have been converted for other uses.[53] The former chapel of St Nicholas was partially demolished by the War Office in 1904[54] but rebuilt in 1909, possibly by E H Sedding, from the old materials. It is plain and rectangular and has since been converted into the New Gallery.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart and St Ia was built in 1909 to a design by A J C Scoles. There are also two Methodist chapels, one in Fore Street of 1831, and another of 1845 higher up the valley, and a Congregational chapel of 1800.[55]



Bernard Leach and Shōji Hamada set up the Leach Pottery in 1920. Leach who, was a studio potter and art teacher[56] and is known as the "Father of British studio pottery",[57] learned pottery under the direction of Shigekichi Urano (Kenzan VI) in Japan where he also met Shōji Hamada. They promoted pottery from the point of view of Western and Eastern arts and philosophies. Leach produced work until 1972, and the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition of his work in 1977.[58] The Leach Pottery remains operational and houses a small museum showcasing work by Leach and his students.[59]

In 1928, the Cornish artist Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood met at St Ives and laid the foundation for the artists' colony there. In 1939, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo settled in St Ives, attracted by its beauty. In 1993, a branch of the Tate Gallery, the Tate St Ives, opened.[60] The Tate has also owned the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden since 1980.[60] The town attracted artists from overseas, such as Piet Mondrian and Maurice Sumray, who moved from London in 1968,[61] and continues to do so today with younger artists such as Michael Polat, who took up residence there from his native Germany in 1999.

Before the 1940s, most artists in St Ives and West Cornwall belonged to the St Ives Society of Artists; but events in the late 1940s led to a dispute between the abstract and figurative artists in the group. In 1948 the abstract faction broke away to form the Penwith Society of Artists led by Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.

In 1962 Frederick Spratt took a sabbatical in Britain for one year, where he lived and painted representationally in St Ives.

The studio pottery Troika was set up in 1963.

A 2010, a BBC Four film, The Art of Cornwall, presented by James Fox said that the St Ives artists "went on to produce some of the most exhilarating art of the twentieth century...for a few dazzling years this place was as famous as Paris, as exciting as New York and infinitely more progressive than London."[62] The programme explored the lives and works of the key figures and their contributions in establishing St Ives as a major centre of British art from the 1920s onwards.[63]


The Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden are the responsibility of Tate St Ives.[64][65] It was the wish of the late sculptor to leave her work on public display in perpetuity.[65] The St Ives Museum has exhibits illustrating local history and culture, including mining, fishing, agriculture and domestic life.[66]


John Knill, a former mayor, constructed the Knill Steeple, a granite monument overlooking the town. In 1797, Knill laid down instructions for the celebration of the Knill Ceremony, which was to take place every five years on 25 July (St James's Day). The ceremony involves the Mayor of St Ives, a customs officer, and a vicar accompanied by two widows and ten girls who should be the "daughters of fishermen, tinners, or seamen".

A second celebration, of perhaps greater antiquity, is St Ives Feast, a celebration of the founding of St Ives by St Ia, which takes place on the Sunday and Monday nearest to 3 February each year. It includes a civic procession to Venton Ia, the well of St Ia, and other associated activities. It is one of the two surviving examples of Cornish Hurling (in a gentler format than its other manifestation at St Columb Major).

A third festival is the St Ives May Day, a modern revival of West Cornwall May Day celebrations that were once common throughout west Cornwall.

The St Ives September Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in September 2008. It is one of the longest running and widest ranging Festivals of the Arts in the UK lasting for fifteen days and includes music (folk, jazz, rock, classical & world), poetry, film, talks and books. It was founded in 1978 as a joint venture by local entrepreneurs and the International Musicians Seminar. Many local artists open up their studios to allow visitors to see how their art is produced. There is free music in many pubs almost every night, and concerts.[67] Many events are held at the Western Hotel or St Ives Guildhall.[68] St Ives has a 500-seat theatre which hosts some of the festival events.[69]

Early-20th-century figures in St Ives appear in Virginia Woolf's reflections contained in "A Sketch of the Past", from Moments of Being, "...I could fill pages remembering one thing after another. All together made the summer at St. Ives the best beginning to life imaginable.[70] Her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse is said to have been influenced by the view from Talland House where she stayed with her parents on family holidays.[71]

The Cornish language poet Mick Paynter is resident in St Ives.

Modern-day novelist Elizabeth Day, author of The Party, writes many of her novels whilst staying in St Andrews Street in St Ives.[72]

The Ulysses Moore series of books, written by Pierdomenico Baccalario are based in the hypothetical village of Kilmore Cove near Zennor and St Ives.

The St Ives Literature Festival is an annual week-long event, started in 2008, in May. Open air performances are held in Norway Square and the St Ives Arts Club, as well as talks, workshops and live music.[73]

Film & TV

In 1978/1979 the town, the pub The Sloop Inn and Barnoon Cemetery were filmed and appeared in Jerry Jameson's film Raise the Titanic released in 1980.[74]

The Discovery Travel and Living programme Beach Café, featuring Australian chef Michael Smith, was filmed in St Ives.[75]


St Ives is the home of St Ives Rugby Football Club (founded 1889) who play at the Recreation Ground on Alexandra Road. Once one of the dominant clubs in Cornish rugby, they currently ply their trade in Tribute Western Counties West (tier 7 of the English rugby union system). There is also a football team, St Ives Town FC, who play in the Cornwall Combination (division 12 of the English football system). Their ground is at Lelant Saltings.


St Ives railway station is linked to the Paddington to Penzance main rail route via the St Ives branch line which runs frequent services from St Erth. The line was opened in 1877 by the St Ives branch railway, but became part of the Great Western Railway in 1878. Previous to 2019, the park & ride facility for visitors to St Ives ran from Lelant Saltings railway station. The station had been opened on 27 May 1978 specifically for this purpose. After development works at St Erth station in 2019 to improve transport links, the park and ride was moved there. The branchline also links the St Ives to nearby Carbis Bay and Lelant.

The town also has regular services by National Express coaches from London Victoria Coach Station, Heathrow and other places in Britain. First Kernow buses also connect St Ives to nearby towns and villages, such as Zennor, Penzance and Truro.

The nearest airports to St Ives are Newquay and Land's End Airport, near St Just. Private jets, charters and helicopters are served by Perranporth Airfield.


St Ives is twinned with Camaret-sur-Mer (Breton: Kameled) in Brittany, France and has friendship agreements with Laguna Beach, California and Mashiko, Tochigi, Japan.[76]

On Sunday 7 September 2014, St Ives had a ceremony to make St Ives and Laguna Beach, California, US a Sister City.[77]

Notable people

Before 1900

  • Rev. Thomas Tregosse (c.1600 in St Ives - c.1670) Puritan minister who was silenced for being a Nonconformist
  • Jonathan Oannes Toup (1713 in St Ives – 1785) English philologist, classical scholar and critic
  • John Knill (1733 in Callington – 1811) slightly eccentric mayor of St Ives and Collector of Customs at St Ives from 1762–1782
  • James Halse (1769 – 1838) English lawyer, wealthy businessman and Tory (later Conservative) politician. Settled in St Ives 1790
  • John Baragwanath (1817 in St Ives – 1885) miner and politician in Australia, member of Victorian Legislative Assembly
  • Richard Short (1841 in St Ives – 1919) was a Cornish artist, the Museum of Wales holds five of his works
  • Sir Edward Hain (1851 in St Ives – 1917) shipping owner, MP for St Ives as a Liberal Unionist 1900/04, and as a Liberal 1904/06
  • John Noble Barlow (1861–1917) English artist, predominantly as a landscape and seascape painter, lived in St Ives from 1892
  • William Williams (1877 in Cornwall – 1906) was the last person executed in Minnesota USA. The circumstances of his execution helped lead to the abolition of capital punishment in Minnesota.
  • Percy Lane Oliver (1878-1944) from St. Ives was the founder of the first voluntary blood donor service in 1921.
  • Warwick Ward (1891 in St Ives – 1967) English actor and film producer, appearing in 64 films between 1919 and 1933 and produced 19 films between 1931 and 1958

Since 1900

See also


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  22. Jenkin (1932) Cornish Seafarers; chapter on fishing
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  59. Leach Pottery website,, last examined Aug 2011
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  77. "Laguna Beach, California - Sister City with St Ives". 7 September 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2016.

Further reading

  • Paynter, William Old St Ives: the reminiscences of William Paynter; [edited] by S. Winifred Paynter. St. Ives: James Lanham

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